Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Talkin' Chickens

For several years now I've wanted to keep chickens.  The idea of having fresh eggs available right out the back door is very appealing.  And with backyard-chicken-keeping being the latest craze, it is easy to get sucked into the whole process.

So, what is stopping me?

First, I didn't have a place where I could keep chickens (zoning).  Now I live in farm country and have neighbors with chickens.  That excuse is no longer valid.

Then there's the set-up:  I don't have a coop.  I'd have to purchase or build something.  Funds are getting low, and I don't really have carpentry skills.  This is not a huge hold up, but something to consider.

I've worked at places where we raised chickens.  They aren't all fluffy, friendly, funny little birds.  Some are aggressive, some are henpecked.  There are diseases, parasites, and predators.

Would I raise 'em just for eggs, or would I also do meat birds?  Would I have the guts to slaughter 'em myself (I've been involved with chicken processing, but never had to wield the axe), or would I pay to have someone else do it?  Then there's the winter care of the birds.

When one really puts one's mind to it, one begins to have doubts.  Still, I really do like the idea of providing my own eggs and meat.  It's one less thing I need to purchase from someone else, and I'd know how the animals are raised and cared for.

"They" say that chickens are the easiest of the livestock animals to raise.  Maybe I could just start out with some meat birds...they only hang around for a few months before it's time to do 'em in.  Less of a commitment.  Something to think about.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Stuff from the Garden

Ah, now there's a thing of beauty:  my first EVER real ear of corn from my own garden!

I was so tickled when I saw an ear large enough to pick that I had to look for more - I found four.  Admittedly, a couple were really only nibblets, but oh, they were good!

So this is Sunday's harvest:  four ears of corn, two cukes, two tomatoes, two carrots, and a large double handful of beans.

Oh, yes, and the onions.  There they are - four very small, sad braids of onions.  All that is left of the nearly 100 that I planted, and, as you can see, only two or three of any size worth mentioning.  I've been told that perhaps I planted them too late - onions are apparently a light sensitive plant and since they can tolerate the cold, I should plant them in April.  I've never had problems before, but I'm living further south now than my beloved mountains, so I guess my garden will take some rethinking.

On a whim last night I decided to dig a potato plant.  It had two large spuds attached, so I dug a couple more - not so robust.  Stilll, I am optimistic for a good harvest of potatoes later in the season.  

And, yes, those are carrots.  I thinned out the patch a little bit last night.  The greens are all so very tall and bushy, but I know that since I don't thin, the roots will be small and sorry.  It's a bad habit of mine.  Every year I tell myself that next year I will thin...I never do. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Harvest Time!

The pea harvest was a bust, and the beans are not certainly not going to cause the freezer to overflow (after four harvests, I now have enough to bother getting out the blanching kettle and freezing 'em), but last night I rejoiced with my harvest:

My first two tomatoes finally ripened, and I picked my second cucumber!  For those who might be wondering what is wrong with that cuke (because it is rather pale), it is a variety called Boothby's Blonde, which produces small, pale cukes that have a nice light flavor.  There's nothing bitter about these babies.

I'm also very excited about this:

It may be only an ear of corn, but I've never had luck with corn.  This year I got the corn in late, and then it was dry as a bone, followed by torrential rains.  The cornstalks maybe reach four feet tall at the most - I didn't have high hopes.  So I am just tickled pink that there are several ears forming, and they are already several inches long!

My squash have been going great guns, too.  It seems that this is squash country, for everyone raves about how well squash do here.

 Now, perhaps you are wondering why I would harvest such a small onion (see first photo).  I didn't.  Well, I did, but not intentionally - it came up with the weeds.  But take a look at that sorry-looking onion patch:

What started out with such promise has completely fizzled.  I don't understand it.  The only thing I can think is that when it rains, the "soil" (and I use the term loosely) turns into a very clay-like slurry.  Perhaps the plants just couldn't handle the heavy rains.  It could also have been the long hot dry spell, but I did water the garden almost every evening.  Could something be getting into the garden and trampling the onions and pulling them out (many are MIA)?  I just don't know.  It will be interesting to see if any potatoes are produced come digging time - they are in the same soil as the onions.

The dill, while short, is doing nicely.  I don't plant dill for pickling - in fact, I can't even stand the smell of dill.  I plant it for the butterflies, but so far not one has taken up residence on any of the plants.  Next year I will do parsley and fennel - the butterflies like these, too.

Despite a shaky start, the sweet potatoes seem to have recovered and are sending out tendrils all across their section of the garden.  I'm very excited about these - I've never grown sweet potatoes before.

This final photo is here merely for comparison.  Two days ago I took a nearly identical photograph of Toby walking by the sunflowers.  Last night I noticed that the sunflowers were at least a foot taller than they were two days ago (see yesterday's post).  Amazing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Ugh - it has been SOOOOO hot and humid all of July - and so far August seems to be going the same way.  To say it's been Guamish would be an insult to Guam - it has simply been miserable outside.  Ugh.  Bleh.  

And, despite the ridiculously high humidity, it has been dry!  No rain to speak of...until about a week ago, when we got over 4" in less than 24 hours (although just north about 10 miles, in Waterloo, they got over 7" from the same storms).  The heavy rains and gusting winds did a number on the corn, although it has mostly recovered now.  See the tassels?  I'm very excited that I might, for the first time, get corn from my garden!

Now, these photos are hazy for two reasons.  One, the air was hazy, thanks to the humidity.  Two, my camera was hazy, thanks to the heat and humidity.  The camera had been in the cool house (ahhh - geothermal cooling!), and when it hit the outside air, it fogged right up.  Grrrr.

I'd already given up the peas as a lost cause this year, and although I'm now harvesting beans, so far it is a minuscule harvest.  I checked the beans at my plot at work yesterday, and not a single plant was to be seen!  Something either ate them (I've heard rumors of a rogue woodchuck), or the heat and drought did them in.  All that remains of my community garden plot are the trellises I made and the sunflowers.

Meanwhile, some of the community gardeners have brought us tomato hornworms for the office.  These are caterpillars of the five-spotted hawk moth, and they wreak havoc on tomato plants.  I'd never seen one before, so I marveled at their size and beautiful markings...until I found them on MY tomato plants at home!  Fortunately, two of the three I found looked like this:

Those white "things" on the caterpillar's back are cocoons of the pupating larvae of braconid wasp.  Hooray!  These parasitic wasps are hate gardener's friend.  The wasp comes buzzing along and lays her eggs on/in the caterpillar.  The wasp larvae hatch and begin to digest the inside of their host.  When they get ready to pupate, the unfortunate caterpillar is beyond redemption.  It will soon perish while the young wasps reach adulthood safe inside their white cocoons.  When pupation is complete, the new wasps emerge and the cycle continues.  If you find a hornworm that is covered with pupal cases, leave it on your tomatoes, for it will die, but the wasps will hatch and spread through your garden, looking for more hornworms to parasitize.  They are the gardener's friend.

I also found this strangely shaped "grasshopper" in the garden:

Here is a close-up of the head:

This, my friends, is one of the coneheaded katydids (the only other time I've seen a conehead was in the Amazon rainforest).  How bizarre is it!?!  This one is a female, as one can tell by noting the long ovipositor she is sporting (see the first photo).  Based on the range maps in my new grasshopper ID book, I'm thinking this is either a robust conehead, or a sword-bearing conehead.  Robust coneheads are the largest of the coneheads, and the female's ovipositor is 1-1.1 times the length of the hind femur.  Hm...this might just be a robust - that ovipositor is pretty darn long.